2.70 USDA Dietary Guidelines (USDA)

In this HeartStrong.com video/article, we are going to talk through the USDA Food Plan as it relates to heart health. These recommendations, updated in 2015, include “evidence-based” recommendations put into a diet plan that has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and help reduce other chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. This dietary pattern has NOT been shown to reverse heart disease like a whole foods plant based diet can in combination with other lifestyle modifications. Recall that many critics say that the USDA dietary guidelines are biased by big industry influence and other conflicts of interest.

Specifically, the USDA is supposed to support agriculture (both plant and animal agriculture) while at the same time give Americans dietary guidelines. The USDA would never say to completely stop eating a certain product such as meat, dairy or sugar since this would negatively impact the agriculture industry that they are also supposed to be supporting. Recommending to avoid meat and dairy would not only hurt the animal agriculture industry, but also corn and soy farmers. Currently, 70% of the crop grown in the U.S. is fed to livestock, so a recommendation not to eat meat/dairy would cause a major economic impact.

Surprisingly, the USDA guidelines do say to “eat as little cholesterol as possible” while not saying to eat “zero cholesterol” which would essentially be saying to eliminate meat. They also say “A diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.”

The USDA Diet Plan

You will see quite a few similarities between the USDA Food Plan, the AHA diet, the DASH Diet and the Mediterranean diet. Following the principles laid out in any of these diets would be an absolute bare minimum for heart health with a whole foods plant based diet being ideal. We will now summarize the USDA food plan. When you are done with this video/article, you can visit the USDA website to learn more if you would like.

The USDA diet plan is a little more simple and breaks down food groups into the following 5 categories:

  • Grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Dairy
  • Protein

Note that the exact number of servings in each of these groups is determined by how many calories you need to eat daily. Most diets vary between 1600 calories and 2000 calories per day depending on your metabolism, weight and/or weight loss goals (see Obesity and Weight Loss: Basic Concepts). Keeping the appropriate calorie balance is very important with the USDA Diet, unlike a whole food plant based diet where calories do not need to be counted. The USDA website breaks down their diet plan for any specific number of daily calories to make it easier for you to figure out how many servings in each group you should eat.

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